Truth, too, buried at Wounded Knee
One of the great letters that the Rocky Mountain News (4-17-06) published about the Ward Churchill scandal was written by the former FBI Special Agent in Charge, Joseph H. Trimbach, the author of American Indian Mafia: An FBI Agent's True Story About Wounded Knee, Leonard Peltier, and the American Indian Movement (AIM). Mr. Trimbach also has posted this article on his site (Scroll down).
Truth, too, buried at Wounded Knee
By Joseph H. Trimbach April 17, 2006
Recently, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that the war on terror was not faring well in the realm of public opinion. Speaking to the Council of Foreign Relations, Rumsfeld warned that terrorist networks were winning the propaganda war by using global communications. If the secretary was alluding to the way extreme media, unopposed by moderates, recently stirred up a murderous rampage over Danish cartoons, then perhaps he was on to something.
To paraphrase and mix a couple of well-known aphorisms, the pen is mightiest against the sword when good men do nothing. Silence is all that is required for the triumph of evil.
I have some experience dealing with media manipulation. In the 1970s, my employer, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, frequently employed a "no comment" policy when confronting propagandists. The unfortunate result was that many falsehoods concerning the FBI went unchallenged. Today, they survive in various publications where truth usually takes a back seat to ideology.
Nowhere do the myths die harder than with radical elements of the American Indian Movement. At its core, AIM was as violent a group of extremists as you'll find in recent history, though you'd never know it from reading the history books. AIM's legacy lives on as the story of beleaguered Indians who merely sought to improve indigenous lives. While there's historical room for altruism among its unassuming members, the sad reality of AIM's true heritage is one of destruction.
In 1973, AIM leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks led a nighttime raid on the historic village of Wounded Knee in South Dakota. The invasion began with gunfire and looting and left the village in shambles 10 weeks later, having caused two deaths. Most historical accounts characterize the takeover as a "liberation" or as a "symbolic" protest meant to focus attention on the plight of reservation dwellers.
The latest rendition in the rewriting of Wounded Knee history is A Tattoo on My Heart: The Warriors of Wounded Knee 1973. Regrettably, the Public Broadcasting System has opted to feature this low-budget documentary, thus bestowing legitimacy upon another shameless attempt to cast invading militants as heroes. What is not explained is how 67 families benefited from the systematic destruction of their homes.
In the world of academia, truth is likewise rendered homeless where AIM is concerned. For example, University of Colorado's embattled professor, Ward Churchill, exemplifies a career built on fraudulent research. Take his book, The COINTELPRO Papers (South End Press, 2001), a collection of outrageous assertions based on guesswork. University administrators who granted Churchill tenure may be surprised to learn that each mention of my name is in reference to complete fabrications.
In one of the more zany episodes, I assume the identity of an infiltrating postal inspector during the Wounded Knee crisis. In another, I am given responsibility for the death of a village occupier, at a time when I was hundreds of miles away. What I did do, as the chief FBI official on the scene, was to order the erection of manned roadblocks to cordon off the violence. Would-be historians have since contended that armed militants who opened fire on these roadblocks were not trying to harm anyone. The assertion is both inaccurate and absurd.
One of AIM's greatest heroes from that period of violence was convicted killer Leonard Peltier. Peltier participated in the shooting death of two FBI agents, one of whom sat pleading for his life while his partner lay unconscious, bleeding to death. Today, thanks to unscrupulous authors, Peltier has been transformed into a harmless, warm-and-fuzzy prisoner of conscience. Peltier still maintains his innocence, Tookey Williams-style, despite court testimony that has him bragging about the dastardly deed.
Students of history should take heart in knowing that truth eventually wins out. Rumsfeld apparently agrees. He ended his speech with the hopeful prediction that, despite our enemy's skill at manipulating media, the United States has an advantage in its standard of truth. "I believe . . . that free people, exposed to sufficient information, will, over time, find their way to right decisions."
Let's hope this includes exposing the false legacies of AIM.
Joseph H. Trimbach, the FBI special agent in charge at its Minneapolis division from 1973-1975, is writing a book due out next year about his experiences with the American Indian Movement.